Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales Review

December 2, 2020
REVIEWS
PS5
Also on: PS4

Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a sharper, hyper-focussed, youthful new entry in Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man canon. A mini-series compared to the multi-layered story arc of its predecessor, Miles Morales zeroes in on the best parts of Marvel’s Spider-Man and cuts away the chaff. The result is a game that manages to be the perfect follow-up to the best game of 2018 — yeah, I said it — letting us check in with our favourite characters, meet new ones, and build towards the next huge chapter in their developing story.

So yeah, if somehow you’ve missed the news, there’s a new Spider-Man in town. Miles Morales is a gifted kid from Brooklyn. He’s half African-American and half Puerto Rican. And after a family move, he now finds himself living in Harlem. At seventeen years old, he’s in a new neighbourhood, discovering a new community, and reconnecting with friends and family all whilst grieving after the death of his father. Oh, and of course he’s New York’s second Spider-Man. Eager but hesitant, confident but very green behind the ears; he’s got a lot on his plate. All of this (and more) plays into the character we find at the beginning of Spider-Man: Miles Morales. 

Starting this game is like reading issue one — plus some of the prologue if you played the original game — and Insomniac has gotten away with the ‘origin story’ trope because Miles as a character is so different to the experienced Peter Parker from Marvel’s Spider-Man. He looks different, he plays different, and over the course of the game the character himself grows to embrace that. Seeing him swing through New York for the first time and recognising his more chaotic swinging style was a brilliant piece of visual storytelling. There's confidence there, sure, but where Peter is a polished pro, Miles still lacks the discipline — and quipping power — of his mentor.

“With great ability comes great accountability”

This meant that Miles and I were pretty much starting our adventures together. Not surprisingly his underdog story means forging a very different connection to the character to the one I have with Peter. Through this game we get to experience the growth of this character inside and outside of the suit.  Every twist, every turn, every misstep and every victory just feels different.

Of course if you have played Marvel’s Spider-Man you’re one step ahead of Miles. The combat and traversal will feel very familiar because, aside from a few alternate gadgets and the odd tweaked animation, it’s almost identical. However, this is very much an ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ sort of situation. However, unlike our classic Spider-Man, Miles does have a few new tricks up his sleeve. The first of those is an electrically charged ‘Venom’ power which sends bad guys flying and messes with their fancy weaponry. The second is a cloaking power which will leave foes scratching their heads and allows Miles to strike from the shadows even more effectively. Both of these additions augment the already excellent gameplay really well, with the ‘Venom’ power being a particularly powerful AOE attack when powered up. What’s more, they also help further differentiate Miles from his more famous friend.

These new powers prove vital in Miles’ journey, which sees him up against a technologically advanced gang known as The Underground and their leader The Tinkerer — one of the lesser known names amongst Spidey’s rogues gallery, given a great update for their time in the spotlight — as well as the super-soldiers from Simon Krieger’s energy company Roxxon. Of course there are some plain old escaped prisoners and other petty thugs to deal with along the way too. Enemy-wise, Spider-Man: Miles Morales does suffer from the groups feeling very similar, both to one another and to the gangs from the original game, albeit with slightly different arsenals. Large fights will often play out very similarly. However, I was happy that the addition of a stealth power for Miles meant that I could take out the often large batches of enemies silently a lot of the time as opposed to clearing out one wave and then being forced into a brawl a la Marvel’s Spider-Man. 

There are, of course, a few bigger enemies to do battle with from Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. However, these are few and far between with Miles mostly in pursuit of The Tinkerer. A lesser known villain, The Tinkerer is the perfect level of villain for Miles to be doing battle with here. After all, our protagonist is still very much learning the ropes at this point. Watching as this main plotline and the side stories intersect to help build Miles as a character and his connection to the community in Harlem is incredibly powerful. As a by-product, it also gives a little extra weight to every random crime or side mission picked up in the Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man app.

Zzzzzap!

One of the many ways Miles and Peter — who don’t usually get to hang out in the same universe — are separated, the FNSM app is a brilliant innovation both from a gameplay and storytelling point of view. Developed by Miles’ friend Ganke — who very much knows he’s Spider-Man — it gives our new hero a direct link to the people. These additional side missions just help to flesh out more about this world and give Miles a chance to get to know his new surroundings whether he realises or not. You’ll respond to reports of stolen goods, fans wanting photos and even a lost cat. You know, typical Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man™ stuff. These smaller stories bring the characters and wider universe to life, anchoring this spectacular superhero story in some kind of reality.

They also help to amplify characters and their stories too, whether it’s through a brief cutscene with a NY resident or a simple but pertinent exchange between Miles and his Mom that weaves between English and Spanish. These little moments are likely going to stick with me the longest, but the performances overall are stellar. Nadji Jeter  returns as Miles and is excellent in his leading role, carrying the story incredibly well while expertly capturing the growth of this fledgling superhero. The supporting cast, particularly Jasmin Savoy Brown (Phin Mason) and Jaquelin Pinol (Rio Morales), are brilliant. Troy Baker plays smug villain Simon Krieger in only the way he can, while Ashly Burch’s addition as podcaster Danika Hart provides an outstanding alternative to the celebrated egomania of J. Jonah Jameson (voiced by Darin De Paul). Oh, and of course Yuri Lowenthal returns as Spider-Man / Peter Parker, complete with his controversial new facelift. Yes, there are still one too many repeated lines from Miles or his foes and Ganke’s persistent nudges about crimes quickly became tiresome but, on the whole, there’s little to fault.

From the outside, Spider-Man: Miles Morales could be dismissed as a B-story, a spin-off, or some other inaccurate and reductive term. Not once does it ever feel like that, and the way it follows on from the events of the City that Never Sleeps DLC, expands the universe Insomniac has created, and sets things in motion for a ‘proper’ sequel means it’s not to be missed. For those worried about the game’s length, don’t. Having spent sixteen hours finishing every single side mission and collecting every possible collectable — because I wanted to, I might add — you’ll be fine. And I’ll almost certainly be back for a New Game Plus run before long too.

Looks like a bit of a sticky situation

I’ll probably just pop in to swing around the city every once in a while too, because 1.) it’s still really fun and 2.) New York City in Spider Man: Miles Morales is way more alive than it was in the first game. The streets are more densely packed, the addition of ray tracing makes everything pop, and it’s hard not to fall for the Christmas set dressing. Returning players will rediscover a city they’re already very familiar with, but thwippping through a snow-covered Times Square will still draw a smile. Seeing Harlem in a new light is great too. The neighbourhood becomes its own character, evolving over time and it’s wonderful to see those changes. All the little details and the energy that has been brought to that one area shows just how much Insomniac cares about getting this right.

And that’s true of everything in this game. Even down to the little bit of tension in the right trigger of the PlayStation’s new DualSense controller or the satisfying and subtle web noise that emanates from the in-built speaker to add just a touch more immersion. Speaking of which, the practically non-existent loading on the PS5 makes moving between areas and hopping in and out of activities a breeze. These finer points are easy to gloss over but, just as it was in the 2018 game, the quality can be seen in every pore of Just as it was in the 2018 game, the quality can be seen in every pore of Spider-Man: Miles Morales. The care and attention is stellar throughout, whether that’s in the replication of Harlem and its diverse cultures in a realistic way, getting every little movement and animation just right, writing a story that draws you in and takes you on a ride, or simply never getting in the way of you playing the game.

Ultimately, that’s all I ever wanted to do. I still want to do it now. Despite all of the pressure of being a flagship title for the PlayStation 5 and a sequel to one of the standout games of the last generation, it never compromises its vision of being a fun, accessible, superhero romp with a great story and all the bells and whistles of the next generation covered.

Much like Miles himself, Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales rises to the challenge and more than meets the expectations of what Spider-Man should be.

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Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a tighter, more concentrated Spider-Man video game experience that focuses so heavily on what makes the character great — regardless of who’s in the suit.
Ant Barlow

Started with the PlayStation, now I'm here... with a PlayStation. Once skipped school to play the Metal Gear Solid demo repeatedly. I love stories big and small. Trophy hunter. Recent VR convert. Probably a hipster.